Privacy or Secrecy?

Sunday Blog 94 – 23rd July 2023

This week I had the chance to give a talk about privacy from a consumer perspective, specifically about our state’s Privacy and Responsible Sharing Information Project and the forthcoming legislation. This legislation is yet to be revealed, much to my chagrin. I had a fantasy that drafting this important legislation would be more of a consultative process with the West Australian community (ha ha ha ha! No wonder they call me Pollyanna…)

Privacy is a dry topic, I know, and I attempted to spice it up by trying to argue that privacy is not the absolute, only thing that citizens care about. We care about openness too, and honesty. Heaven forbid, we might sometimes think that governments citing “privacy concerns” are just covering their own butts.

Case in point. I debriefed the episode of Australian Story where Corey White, author of the wonderfully titled (and written) memoir The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory went on Australian Story. He and his sister used a national television program to further unpack their experiences in Australia’s out of home care system. Queensland’s Child Protection Department had this to say the next day after the episode aired:

The Act prevents us from discussing individual cases…

But Corey and his sister had swapped out their privacy to attempt to create change. What I would have loved to have seen was something like this; “Our whole team watched the Australian Story and spent time reflecting on what has changed, and what is the same since Corey’s childhood. We thank Corey and his sister for their bravery in telling their stories. We heard them. We have re-committed to implementing Recommendations from previous Inquiries and to advocate to Treasury to provide the funds we need to keep children safe.”

I know. I was really riffing.

For people who are desperate to access a service, or to create positive change to help make meaning out of the suffering they have endured, privacy may not be the most important thing.

I also reinforced the radical notion that data about us, should be owned by us everyday citizens. Not government agencies playing God as Data Custodians, arguing the toss about who has the most power while data that is not shared or linked (especially health data) can mean actual lost lives.

And our data should not, heaven help us, be owned outright by companies. We know that data is the new oil, and how it is extracted, refined, repackaged and on-sold is where the money and power is at. The biggest companies in the world now are trading data, our data.

We also take part in the playacting of accepting privacy policies that are thousands of unread words long every day. That is the cost we pay in order to be able to access an app, a service. Our only other choice is to say no and be barred.

So yes, privacy is complex and important. Companies in particular need to be collecting less data about us and destroying that data once it has done its job. Letting us know when they have sold our data on (aren’t we are all familiar with that rash of dodgy texts received a day or two after clicking “accept” on privacy terms on some website somewhere?)

Government agencies need to use the data they are custodians of to follow the trail and work out what services and programs are working. We the people need to be part of the ongoing digital revolution, able to participate meaningfully in discussions about what data is collected, how algorithms are put together, how they are assessed as effective over time.

Or as this interesting Washington Post article says:

We the users want transparency, so we can understand how technology is shaping our lives — and correct course when it goes off the rails.

I have joined the revolution by reading The Digital Mindset. I think I can boast a wobbly fluency in the key concepts and feel more empowered now – it’s definitely worth a read.

We need to be part of the conversation of what data is collected – “what is counted ends up counting” as the book tells us. As a patient advocate I know how essential it is for us to be at the table ensuring that the data patients and carers think is important is also counted, not just what the surgeon thinks is important.

Viva la digital revolution.

Friendships through the decades

Sunday Blog 93 – 16th July 2023

To quote myself, (because frankly, no-one else is)

Sometimes I think that all the wisdom of life is contained in E.M. Forster’s novel Howards End, which tackles money, death, friendship and class (among other things).

Sunday Blog 37, 22 May 2022

What I loved about the way friendship was tackled in Howards End was the friendship between Margaret Schlegel and Mrs Willcox is central to the plot-more central than the romantic relationship.

We under-rate friendships in our society, in my humble opinion. Romantic relationships are top of the tree, and family relationships are also prioritised. But friendships can be every bit as important and even painful as any other type of relationship. They are also so wonderfully light and free because they are relationships of choice rather than obligation.

Lately I have been so lucky to re-connect with friends I made as a teenager. Friends I made when I looked like this:

And in a few short years like this:

There is such pleasure in re-connecting with someone who remembers you from your formative years. And as my formative years are several decades ago, there are rich, iterative conversations zigging and zagging across time to fill in the details.

Forgotten photos are returned to you, and conversations and opinions re-hashed which must surely have been uttered by another human being. Have I changed that much?

Yes, to finish with Joan Didion’s wise quote “I’ve lost touch with several people I used to be.”

Hurrah to friendships that can knit together our different selves across time.

Is it finished?

Sunday Blog 92 – 9th July 2023

I would hate to estimate when it was that I bumped into a woman I did coaching training with – let’s say for argument’s sake it was more than three years ago. She knew I had started a novel in about 2015 which was about the time we started studying together. So in 2019 she asked me “Is it finished?”

It was a perfectly sensible question to ask me. But it was not. “It” was the novella, Not His Story that I have dragged through at least three online courses, a retreat in Delphi, Greece, through the mill of a couple of mentors, both of whom pronounced it unpublishable. It ballooned to more than 100,000 words, shrank to 25,000. It even spent a brief stint in the bin. It was rescued from said bin two years ago when I applied for the Western Australian Emerging Writers Program. When I was successful in that application, I had the “oh shit!” moment of realising that it meant I would have to actually finish the damn book.

And with the framework that the Emerging Writers Program provided, I did finish the damn book. Workshops and a group all suffering together, and a mentor who set me on my wobbly legs and encouraged me to the finish line.

But only to manuscript stage, where now it can experience a whole new set of rejections but this time with publishers. If I am very lucky, it may be accepted for publication. And acceptance will mean yet more work to ensure it meets the publishers expectations while staying true to my vision of the book.

I do understand what Liz Gilbert talks about with the shit sandwich of writing. It’s not for everyone, and talent alone will never get you there. So much work is required.

But I do believe this particular shit sandwich is for me.

And now, off to celebrate this milestone of finishing the damn book!


Sunday Blog 91 – 2nd July 2023

I’m up to the stage of submitting my novella manuscript to publishers (yay and eek all at once). I have been working on it for about eight years, so it’s quite the gear shift. I’m keeping myself connected to my writing practice by writing shorter pieces, looking for places to submit for publication or to enter competitions.

A writing prompt this weekend has got me thinking about housework, and servants. What a strange, co-dependant relationship it was, between servant and mistress. I fell down quite a few research rabbit holes trying to find out more about servants in England before and after the First World War. Far too many rabbit holes for the shortness of the piece I was trying to write.

It was interesting to reflect that as the world was modernising, some households were changing, becoming more bohemian. But not quite bohemian enough to do the dusting. So still, they kept servants.

One of the drivers of the (ahem) rare lively discussions between darling husband and I was my desire for a housecleaner. Back in the day when I was working more than full-time. It was classist he intimated, and of course there was the cost. We compromised by him doing all the housework in return for being taken out to dinner fortnightly. It was win, win, win for me, but what with the menopausal gap year and quitting my job, that arrangement has come to an end. I’m back on the end of the mop.

On the whole, I’m glad. But… writing retreat last weekend, mopping the next. It’s hard not to long for more grand times in writing cabins!

KSP Mini-Retreat

Sunday Blog 90 – 25th June 2023

Thursday feels gratifyingly far away and long ago now. I’ve even lost track of the days on this three-day, mini self-guided writing retreat at KSP. For the uninitiated, KSP stands for Katharine Susannah Prichard, one of Australia’s best-known authors. Born in 1883 in Fiji and raised in Victoria, an inveterate traveller, she eventually moved to Western Australia in 1919 with her husband Hugo Throssell. The KSP Writers Centre is their old home, and it offers cabins for hire, and I was able to use a voucher from when I left Health Consumers’ Council to cover some of the cost.

I’ve been staying in a very cosy and comfortable writing cabin styled on her original writing cabin (see my cabin to the left, hers to the right, top right hand picture) but with the marvellous addition of a reverse cycle air conditioner and ensuite bathroom. My window, like hers, looks over the Perth skyline (top right image).

I didn’t want to come here until I had read Nathan Hobby’s biography of her, The Red Witch. Sensitive to the problem of human suffering, KSP settled on communism as the answer. Nothing that happened in Russia was ever to dissuade her from that right up until her death aged 86 in 1969. The neighbourhood dubbed her the Red Witch because of her communist beliefs and it has stuck.

I feel her all around me, in the house itself, in the gardens and surrounding streets, some of which bear her or Hugo’s names. Each morning after I did my yoga (see yoga altar with gifts from the garden, bottom left), I lit incense sticks outside my cabin door for her. I mean, I wanted to light them inside but didn’t want to risk setting off any fire alarms. Generally speaking I have been here alone, bumbling around trying to work out where light switches are, keen not to set off any burglar or fire alarms.

How lonely it must have been for KSP after her husband Hugo succumbed to the depression that had plagued him since his war service in the First World War. She was travelling in Europe when he completed suicide in 1933, and found out by reading about his death in a London newspaper. I took time to stop by the mournful monument to him erected in 1954, twenty years after his death (middle image on the right).

I had a solitary meal in her kitchen on Thursday night – middle picture – beef and red wine I cooked to bring with me. Because no retreat for me is complete without a solid focus on food.

Friday night I was thrilled to find out Nathan Hobby had won WA Premier’s Book Of The Year for The Red Witch. I adjusted the signage in KSP’s kitchen next to his book the next morning (middle left image).

Being an extrovert writer can be difficult for me but my solitude was relieved each day after a suitable amount of writing time by KSP local and friend from my youth, Trish. We walked, talked, ate and she even lent me a cache of my old letters to her to pore over. There’s one mammoth letter from Thessaloniki where I discover I’m pregnant and adjust my plans for returning to Perth in 1998. What a ride.

And so it’s time for me to return to Perth 2023. I will leave Steven King the final word on writing retreats-

I suppose you might end up in a version of that sylvan writer’s colony in East is East: your own little cottage in the pines…. If you got a chance to participate in a deal like that, I’d say go right ahead. You might not learn The Magic Secrets of Writing (there aren’t any – bummer, huh?) but it would certainly be a grand time and grand times are something I’m always in favor of.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Steven King (Chapter 14)

Acts of discovery

Sunday Blog 89 – 18th June 2023

Last week was all about celebration – finishing the Emerging Writers Program and farewelling my mentor. Collecting my second prize certificate and winnings. Celebrating with a meal and a toast to creativity.

And then, it’s onto the next thing. This week I’ve been putting together an application for a residency in 2024. I decided to dip back into my 2014 memoir as there was a chapter I thought would be perfectly suited to the application.

And…. I hated it. Could I really have written it? Sent that out into the world? I itched to edit it, and spent today’s writing session scratching that itch.

As well has hating my former writing, I’ve been going through my many notebooks and scribblings from the workshops and courses I’ve attended over the last two years. Little gems like the one in the picture above keep popping out at me.

And so it goes on. Pen to paper. Acts of discovery, and let’s not forget, a lot of editing.

My writer’s heart is full

Sunday Blog 88 – 11th June 2023

There are Ideal Days we can visualise, and yesterday would have to be my Perfect Writers Day. A bittersweet ending, an excellent writing course, receiving my prize for the John Gavin Writing Competition and dinner with my daughter and sister to close the day.

Bittersweet endings – the biggest picture is me with my Emerging Writers Program Mentor, closing out our two year partnership. Nathan Hobby has been encouraging, challenging and true to the end. He even gave me a book and inscribed it so kindly.

Excellent writing course – I retreated to the State Library for a quick sob after saying good bye to Nathan, before heading confidently to the Night Parrot Press Flash Fiction course on level floor of the State Library. Only to realise I should have been at Perth Library! I scampered there breathlessly and was welcomed warmly. If you squint you might be able to see me at the back of the room in the picture with facilitators Laura Keenan and Linda Martin from Night Parrot Press. Luckily my sister saved me a seat near the door for me to slip in late. It was an inspiring, hands-on workshop and they worked us hard with prompts to try our hand at flash fiction.

Receiving my prize – I have previously shared my joy at placing second in the John Gavin Writing Competition and my sister and I went from the flash fiction course to the award ceremony. We met others there including my husband, daughter and another sister. I got a chance to read my entry out, A Mother’s Vigil. I met again with Brooke Dunnell, also pictured, judge of the Award and another of Perth’s generous, talented writers.

Dinner with my sister and daughter – no pictures, just happy memories of a night celebrating creativity and all who sail in her.

Taylor’s Well

Sunday Blog 87 – 4th June 2023

This year I have been trying my hand at submitting to writing competitions. Responding to writing prompts leads to fun and innovation. And submissions have been keeping me at the desk, writing, while waiting for feedback on the novella manuscript.

When the Writing WA, Night Parrot Press and Raine Square opened the 2023 Love to Read Local Flash Competition, it focused on landscapes – or flashscapes, as we had but 100 words to tell a tale about a WA landscape.

That got me thinking about Taylor’s Well. When I was growing up, my father always talked about Taylor’s Well, just outside Pingelly. He lived there in the 1920s and 1930s with his father, mother, two sisters and three brothers. He always said that was when he had his first conscious memories, and his affection for that piece of WA lasted right up until his death in his mid-nineties. I was taken to Pingelly and Taylor’s Well in 1965 as a babe in arms (see the photo above – my dad, mum, brother and four sisters. Top marks to my mum for smiling while being the mother of six children under the age of eight!)

I went again with Dad in 2019, not long before he died. When he got out of the car his memories tumbled from him like poorly packed luggage from a plane’s overhead locker. He was not with us, he was back in 1930s Taylor’s Well.

The site of his home was by then a blank block with the house long gone. Never mind, it was the bush that was his home, his back and front yard, his food and entertainment system. In the morning he and his three bothers (“we four boys”) would head out bush with a bottle of milk and a slingshot. They’d catch lunch, and would also hunt rabbits for their pelts to sell to the rag and bone man. It was boy heaven.

The town of Pingelly was a short horse ride away, so too far for my grandmother to walk in for groceries or socialising. Six children in a deeply unhappy union, she was by now stout.

Here is a snap of the Catholic Church steps in Pingelly above-in 1964 so I am yet to make my appearance (I was born in 1965). These are the church stairs where my grandmother stumbled and fell, and received words of ridicule instead of concern from her irascible husband. She would go on to have another five boys with him, and follow his slow progress through small schools across rural WA until they ended up at Rosa Brook.

When I visited Taylor’s Well with Dad in 2019, I thought I could glimpse his careworn mother, my Granny, still only in her late twenties or perhaps early thirties. Five children. Sweat dripping from her face. No running water. Carting water for the laundry, combusting over the boiler to clean the clothes, making food, keeping the modest house clean. The loneliness and the sheer ache of slogging so hard with a contemptuous husband old enough to be her father. Irish brogue slinging insults, nagging for service, boots up while she scrubbed around him.

How did she ever survive?

Congratulations to all the short-listed Flashscape writers! All entries including mine are being published on this link (by Wednesday 7 June). This blog is one of my earlier drafts I radically cut to make 100 words!


Sunday Blog 86 – 28th May 2023

Last week at our Saturday morning yoga class, we did a lovely flow sequence where we began and ended in a kneeling position. We cycled through a range of mantras such as “I reach with trust”, “I move forward with enthusiasm”, “I open myself up to possibilities”, “I surrender to peace”, and finally, “I honour life”.

It is so easy to forget that life is a gift. So many pressures and distractions morph into a sense of immortality, as if death is something that happens to other people.

I’m on another Howards End jag, marinading in the discussions in the novel that I love. “Death destroys us, but the idea of death saves us.” In other words, we’re nicer people when we remember that all this is impermanent.

I’ve dedicated the last few days to birthday lunches, a quick writing getaway and scrolling through kind birthday messages. (Sometimes I think I like Facebook best when I have a birthday.)

And I haven’t forgotten to feel so very grateful for another turn around the sun.

“You were robbed”

Sunday Blog 85 – 21st May 2023

Every family has their little sayings. “You were robbed” was something our father would say to us whenever we, say, got 90% in a test. It was always said in jest, and wrapped in a general cocoon of his pride and kindness.

Recently and rather impulsively, I decided I would try my hand at the RTR Radio presenter’s course which is run regularly. I wanted to test out some of the ideas I have had about podcasting. Mainly I wanted to learn more about writing for broadcasting. I wasn’t so sure about all the techie skills required but I figured I could work it out. I mean, it all looked simple when we went through it with the tutor. I have been using computers since the 1980s after all and consider myself a relatively geeky person. But when I found myself alone at the desk, all alone, I just couldn’t do a single thing. The manual from class just wasn’t helpful and I couldn’t seem to get the You Tube videos to work.

I’m not sure when the last time was for you that you were learning a new skill and hit that boiling point of frustration. It has been a while for me because I’m generally doing things I have done many times before. That’s one of the benefits of being older. We have Experience behind us.

Faced with the presenters desk, I knew I was stumped. I mean sure, I was over-tired but I was surprised by how much the frustration pushed at my chest, dredged up the tears until they stood out on my lashes. The hour of studio time elapsed with me no further ahead except in being able to access my inner three year old.

I took myself and my inner child over the road for a bite to eat and a glass of wine, pulled out my journal for some catharsis. The tears were liberated by this and my napkin was soon quite soggy. That’s another benefit of being my age – not you’re experienced, but you’re also invisible. You can cry in public and no-one will ask if you’re OK.

The waitress delivered the food and wine and retreated after a quick look at my face. Then I remembered I had booked another session in the studio in an hour’s. I opened up my laptop towards me to cancel. I knew I was beat.

Then I saw the email.

I had placed second in a writing competition.

After decades of writing in the dark. 8 years alone on have been lavished on the last manuscript, with thousands of words written and abandoned and written again. In recent months I’ve been submitting regularly. Every entry has disappeared into the ether, with occasionally a “thanks but no thanks” response.

This particular submission was for the Fremantle Roundhouse. It was a thought-provoking prompt about the European executed in the colony of Western Australia. A 15-year-old boy John Gavin who had only been in Western Australia a matter of months, after having been sent out from Parkhurst Boys Home on the Isle of Wight.

The intense discomfort of my failed studio session was suddenly flooded by the intense excitement of this news. I was pressed my soggy napkins to my eyes and sobbed even more energetically. It was amazing how the frustration and the joy felt, well almost as powerful as each other.

When I awoke the next day I’d largely forgotten about the discomfort of struggling with learning new skills. But the delight in having placed in the writing competition was as strong as ever.

Then I could just hear my Dad’s voice in my head. He’s been gone three years now, but I could swear I heard him say “You were robbed!”

You can click on the link below if you want to read the winning entries: